The kids have flown the nest, you’ve worked your last day, and you’re ready to take it easy in an independent living community, free of the need to mow your lawn, shovel your walk, paint your house, or even drive to the theater.
Like many older adults, though, this might be your first time researching communities. If that’s the case, you may be wondering what to look for and how to choose an independent living community.
Before you make your decision, consider these 10 factors.
1. Retirement Community Type
What type of independent living retirement community is the best for you? Do you want only a 55+ community, where other people of approximately the same age live near you in apartment residences? Do you want to live in a Life Plan Community (also known as a continuing care retirement community or CCRC), where you can go from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing without leaving the area? Or do you want to live in a hybrid community with a pay-for-services model? Older adult housing also comprises low-income or subsidized housing and apartments.
As you can see, there are a lot of options to consider with this first step. AARP has a good overview of housing types where you can learn more about the different types.
How much can you afford, and which option is most cost-effective?
The cost of an independent living community can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including community type, services offered, and location. Brad Breeding of MyLifeSite shares that the average monthly cost of independent living is $2,765. He does note, however, that “pricing may range anywhere from several hundred dollars per month to upwards of $9,000 or more for ultra-high-end providers.”
Medicare does not cover the cost of independent living, although some long-term insurance with home care benefits may contribute. Life Plan Communities (CCRCs) typically require a large entrance fee to cover costs associated with higher care levels. Residents then pay a monthly rent, which increases as care levels increase.
While the cost may seem high, many communities are more affordable than you might think. When you take into account how much you spend currently to maintain your home, in addition to any health care costs, it’s a comparable amount. What it comes down to is whether or not you can afford it, which you’ll have a better idea of once you know what each community you’re considering costs.
Some independent living communities simply apartments or houses that may only be sold or rented to people over 55 years of age—with few or no extra amenities. Others include campuses with beauty salons, fitness center, dining rooms, and more.
Which setting would you prefer? If the former, a 55+ community or senior apartments may be the best fit. If the latter, a Life Plan Community would provide all of those things and more.
Location, location, location. It’s just as important when choosing a community now as it was when you bought your first house. Do you want to live near your old neighborhood, in a new city, or closer to your children? What do you want in a location?
Once you answer those questions, you’ll be able to narrow your search to a geographical area and see what’s available.
Another question to ask when choosing an independent living community is what services and amenities are available. That way, you can compare cost versus benefit, as well as what amenities are deal breakers for you if the community does not offer them.
Are activities, fine dining, a fitness center, a swimming pool, transportation and more of importance to you? Standalone independent living communities or 55+ communities may offer some of those services, but they are primarily apartment communities for older adults. Life Plan Communities, in comparison, typically offer much more of those lifestyle amenities.
Your neighbors can be a varied lot, depending on your community’s location, cost, and amenities. Choose a community with neighbors you like.
For example, some communities have a reputation for being intellectual and scholarly. Others attract people who love art and travel. Just like any neighborhood, the community attracts like-minded people.
That’s not to say there’s not plenty of variety—just that it’s easy to find a place that matches your values. A good way to get a feel for the community vibe is to visit on a scheduled tour. There’s no obligation to commit to a community after a tour, so feel free to visit and see the community for yourself.
Ask each community what they offer in the way of transportation. Some communities provide transportation to doctor’s appointments. Some provide transportation to scheduled activities, such as a theater performance or bowling. Others are located on transit lines.
8. Fees for Services
Some communities’ fees are inclusive, while others offer a pay-per-fee model. Read your contract and ask questions.
For example, some communities may charge extra for housekeeping or require additional payment if any health care services are needed (if they are offered at all). Others will charge a set rate as determined by your contract that will cover most (if not all) services.
9. Financial Stability
The community you choose will likely be your home for years to come. For that reason, it’s essential to dig deeper into a community’s financial stability. Ask to see a financial report and fee increases for the past five years.
CARF offers a free guide on how to judge the financial stability of Life Plan Communities. It’s also a good deal to talk with a financial advisor, as this is will be a major financial decision regardless of the community you choose.
These days, it’s not hard to see whether or not others would recommend a community. Google the community’s name. Go to nearby businesses. Ask residents. Glassdoor offers employee reviews. Do others speak highly of this community?
Learn More About Life Plan Communities
The Esquiline is a faith-based, non-profit Life Plan Community. If you would like to learn more about the community type, read our guide on Life Plan Communities. If you have questions during your search, feel free to follow our blog or contact us.